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New England Patriots Week 1 Recap and Week 2 Preview

Courtesy of boston.com
It's always nice to start the season off with a victory. It's only one win, but when you only play 16 games, a slow start to the season can be difficult to overcome. While I was confident in the New England Patriots' ability to beat the Houston Texans last Sunday, the manner in which they did it was surprising. Last year's meeting between these teams was a shootout, with both teams scoring in the 30's. Not so much this year. 

While Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski did what they do, the offense wasnt always crisp in this one. The story coming out of this game was about the performance of the defense. There was plenty to like on that side of the ball. They pressured DeShaun Watson all day long -- recording 3 sacks and generating 27 pressures. 

The coverage was also solid, to the tune of six pass breakups and an interception. Receivers and backs weren't catching the ball in wide open space. Houston had just 59 yards after catch, compared to New England's 93. The Texans fought hard to put 20 points on the board in this one, and one of those scores came courtesy of a muffed punt by Riley McCarron. Even then, Houston took over at the Patriots 16 yard line and needed 7 plays to go those 16 yards.

One area where the Texans were able to find some success offensively was on the ground. That was a weakness for the Patriots last year, and it didn't look any better to start the 2018 season. Now, maybe part of that was by design. The Pats may have been willing to concede yards on the ground in the second half, in order to chew up some clock. The fact still remains that the Texans ran for over 160 yards and averaged nearly 5 yards a carry. 

It won't get any easier next week against the Jacksonville Jaguars, especially if Leonard Fournette is healthy enough to play. He's currently nursing a hamstring injury, and has not practiced yet this week. He's a much better runner than Lamar Miller, and a load to tackle. The Patriots will have their hands full if he's out there on Sunday. If not, they'll have to deal with T.J. Yeldon. Yeldon may not be as powerful a runner as Fournette, but he is still talented and he is also a threat to come out of the backfield as a receiver. 

On the offensive side of the ball on Sunday, it wasn't a dominant effort, but it was solid game against a very good defense. Brady to Gronk was business as usual. Phillip Dorsett caught everything thrown his way. There was plenty to like, but also some things that need improvement. They turned the ball over twice, scored just 6 points in the second half and the run game didn't exactly light it up. All that being said, it's a long season and there's plenty of time to improve, as the Patriots always do. 

One area that needs to improve for next week though, is the third down offense. New England converted on just 4 of the 14 third downs they faced on Sunday. It won't be like this all year. When Julian Edelman returns, things will improve. However, the offense must survive for three more weeks without him. If they convert on less than 30% of their third downs this week, they will lose. 

It won't be easy. Jacksonville has the best defense in the AFC and were 4th in the league last year in third down defense. Last week, the New York Giants converted just 4 of 13 third downs against the Jags. The key for New England's third down offense this week starts on first and second down. They can't find themselves in too many third and longs against this team. 

Part of that falls on the run game. The Patriots need to be able to gain some yards on the ground Sunday. That's easier said than done. First off, the Patriots backfield is banged up. Sony Michel is unlikely to play, Rex Burkhead is in the concussion protocol and Jeremy Hill -- who looked good with the few touches he got on Sunday -- tore his ACL. That leaves a thin backfield against a rush defense that kept Saquon Barkley in check last week. Barkley broke free for a 68-yard touchdown at one point, but with his 17 other carries managed just 38 yards against Jacksonville.

If the Pats are going to be successful offensively this week, they're going to have to be patient. Brady and the Patriots have made their mark taking what the defense gives them -- five yards here, three years there -- that's how they're going to move the ball against the Jaguars. 

The Pats had three drives of 10 plays or more against Houston, they scored 13 points off of those drives. They'll need some of those long, sustained drives this Sunday. The Patriots don't have the personnel to get chunk plays against this Jacksonville defense. It's going to have to be death by a thousand paper cuts.

In last year's AFC Championship game, New England had two 85 yard drives that resulted in touchdowns. One drive took 6 plays, the other took 8; meaning the Pats averaged over 10 yards per play during them. With Brandon Cooks and Danny Amendola, the offense had big play personnel last year. With no Cooks, Amendola or Edelman in this one, I'm not so sure they have the personnel to replicate those drives against virtually the same defense. 

While I believe that Chris Hogan, and Dorsett are capable of chunk yardage plays, against this defense, I'm not so sure. The Patriots are going to have to go underneath a lot this week, dinking and dunking their way down the field. I think it's going to be a big James White day; I'm expecting 7-10 catches for the running back. Don't be surprised if the Pats try to get creative with Cordarelle Patterson by running some sweeps or reverses. I'd also expect to see a fair share of screen passes. The Patriots are going to try to switch it up all afternoon and keep the Jaguars on their heels. 

Jacksonville is going to be all sorts of fired up for this one. Last year's loss in the AFC Championship game left a bad taste in their mouth all offseason. They've almost certainly had this date circled since the schedule was released in April. It's going to take a collective effort from the offense, defense and special teams for New England to come away with a victory on Sunday.

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